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Joint Turkmen-Italian Archaelogical Mission in the Murghab Delta (Turkmenistan) Report from October 2nd to 21st 2006. B. Cerasetti

The State Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Peoples of Turkmenistan, Central Asia and the Orient under the President of Turkmenistan and the Italian Institute for Africa and the Orient (IsIAO) conducted, under the direction of Prof. Ovez Gundogdiyev and Dr. Barbara Cerasetti, the second campaign of the joint project in the Murghab delta from October 2nd to 21st 2006. The permission for the excavation has been issued by the Ministry of Culture and TV Broadcasting of Turkmenistan. The research members, apart from the responsible directors, have been Dr. Aydogdy Kurbanov, as Inspector of Ministry of Culture and TV Broadcasting of Turkmenistan, Prof. Tirkesh Hodjaniyazov, Dr. Olga Bakiyeva and Dr. Nygmatulla Amanliev from the State Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Peoples of Turkmenistan, Central Asia and the Orient under the President of Turkmenistan, Drs. Andrea Ninfo, Alessandro Perego, Francesco Genchi and Mr. Philip Koch from IsIAO.

The surface survey and stratigraphical investigation of Togolok area

Distribution of the main archaeological sites in the Murghab delta


Togolok area with Sarianidi’s topographical map

A detailed topographical plan of the main site Togolok 11 (PGPS 4121654219122) has been made, locating the trench of V.I. Sarianidi2 and the more recent trench made during last campaign.

Site N° 190 in the list made during the project “The Archaeological Map of the Murghab Delta” (Gubaev, A., Koshelenko, G., Tosi, M. (eds.) (1998) The Archaeological Map of the Murghab Delta. Preliminary Reports 1990-95. Reports and Memoirs. Series Minor, III. Rome, 220). 2 Sarianidi, V.I. (1990) Drevnostij Strany Margush. Ashgabat.



The topographical plan has been made by using a Total Station GTS 3 and processed by Meridiana 220 and ArcGIS 9.0 softwares. The plan has been the first step for understanding the exact composition of the Late Bronze Age (LBA) complex site, including four Elevated Depositional Area (EDA) (Gubaev, Koshelenko, Tosi 1998, 94) around the main tepe with craft areas and kilns, fundamental for an extensive stratigraphical investigation. The Togolok area is one of the largest and important archaeological complex in the Murghab delta during the Late Bronze Age. The site of Togolok 1 covers and area of 11 ha. on the 4 meter high alluvial plan. The ancient town was probably defended by a rectangular plan defensive wall with circular towers and four gates located to the cardinal points. The southern part of the site centre was probably occupied by a defended citadel. During the last campaign Prof. O. Gundogdyev and Dr. S. Salvatori decided to open a 10x10 meter trench to the west of Sarianidi's excavation, discovering a large structure probably related to an open courtyard surrounded by residential rooms, characterized by the presence of daily use instruments. The excavation confirmed Togolok 1 as a monumental centre with the presence of various multi-function buildings.


Preliminary geomorphological survey of the site Togolok 1

The Togolok site is located in an area without recent vegetation between two main channels, running to Adam Basan and Gonur sites. The landscape is characterized by the presence of takir, aeolian dunes and poor vegetation. On the CORONA images discontinuous linear depressions are visible, probably palaeochannels partially filled by aeolian sand before the pogress of the dunes.





Takir surface and sediments

A small trench in a takir shows the following sequence of sediments:

0-25 cm: silty sand with weak cementation in the upper part, sub-millimetric salt concretions, dull yellow orange colour, sharp, irregular lower limit; 25-30 cm: silty clay, lamellar structure, brown colour, abrupt lower limit; 30-50 cm: massive loamy silt, dull yellow orange colour, dull yellowish brown millimetric sheets in -5-

the lower part, abrupt lower limit; 50-52 cm: clay silt, dull yellowish brown colour, submillimetric salt concretions, abrupt lower limit; 52-‌.. cm: massive silty fine sand, dull yellow orange colour. The sediments are the remains of the ancient fluvial plain, settled during the Bronze and Iron Age. The presence of salt concretions and the following cementation indicate the onset of more arid conditions. The polygonal surface of the takir is still due to the soil contraction after water loose from the sediments.

The surface survey and stratigrahical investigation of Takhirbaj area: the Final Bronze Age (FBA) site 1211.

The Site 1211 was discovered in the 2000 season during a transect survey close the new canal running to Takhirbaj-tepe (GPS coordinates UTM 41S 0427029, 4205612). The site is located 8


kilometres to the north-west of the Partho-Sasanian fortress of Gary Kishman, in a desert area recently reached by new cultivation fields.

The transect survey crossed a large area characterised by the presence of takhir and shallow sand dunes, covering the ancient landscape. In this territorial context the site 1211 is the first evidence of the Bronze Age (BA) settled area and one of the southernmost LBA sites in the archaeological map of the Murghab delta. The site is characterised by the joint presence of wheel-made pottery of Namazga VI period and the Andronovo hand-made coarse ware with incised line decoration, the so-called Incised Coarse Ware (ICW)3.

3 Cerasetti, B. (1998) Preliminary report on ornamental elements of “Incised Coars Ware�. In Gubaev, Koshelenko, Tosi (eds.), 67. Rome.


The investigation of the Site 1211 has been fundamental to understand the LBA settlement distribution across the Murghab delta, when the nomadic people seems to interact with the sedentary communities. The Site 1211 is a typical steppe camp, located at the borders of the ancient cultivated lands and characterized by a large amount of nomadic pottery. The first sites related to the LBA sedentary peoples are located 4-6 kms far and the main contemporary centre, Takhirbaj-3, is 8 kms to the north east.


During the 2001-2002 seasons the excavation explored the stratigraphical sequence to the virgin soil. The most important results consisted in the peculiar storage features and the large amount of coarse-ware sherds, testifying the cultural horizon of the steppe communities. Several wheel-made and coarse-ware pots have been discovered in a restricted area and some of these vessels are composed by fired clay. Three wheel-made pots contained carbonised grains with at least three different kinds of cereals (triticum, hordeum and one not identified). The pots present large traces of accidental fire. The storage pot area was probably used for the storage, the preservation and the treatment of the cereals. The presence of quern stone confirms the transformation of the activities. After a preliminary surface survey of the area to locate topographically the site, the present semi-arid bush have been removed and identified the limits of the 2002 excavation area. The new -9-

area has been open to the north-east of the old one where, during the 2000 season, the detailed surface collection pointed out a dense concentration of pottery fragments. The results of the transect survey defined an area with high ceramic density along the northern limit of the site, where the extension of takhir finishes and sand dunes extend to the east direction. Nevertheless a presence of several areas with high concentration of pottery are scattered as far as the edge of the Site 1219. The excavation trench is 5 x 5 meters and it is divided in twenty-five 1 x 1 meter squares (C 11-15; G 11-15). The complete excavation area, including the old trenches, is 80 square meters.

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Excavation area of the site 1211 with the new trench of October 2006: trench photo and GIS topographical plan

The first phase of work consisted in a systematic surface collection of the entire area, removing each sherd fragment bigger than 1 x 1 cm., identifying the class type (WM = wheel-made, HM = hand-made). Diagnostic sherds (rim, bottom, decorated wall) have been collected and labelled: M2006, site 1211, square code, surface, pottery class denomination. After the surface collection, the stratigraphic excavation started to verify the consistency of the archaeological deposit and the presence of possible structures. Under an aeolic level, we identified a horizontal compact layer of sandy clay, pale brown colour, with maximum thickness of 10 cm. It extends especially in the western sector of the excavation trench (US 1a) and contains few small sherds, mainly wheel-made pottery (WM) and some fragments of fired clay. The colour of the pottery is rose, porous surface and the thickness of the fragments is around 3/4 cm. In the US 1a we founded also numerous pieces of clay with reed traces of vegetable elements (1-4 cm. width), probably supporting a roof of the house composed by shrubs or reinforcing small subterranean buildings for the preservation of vessels and foodstuffs.

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Pieces of clay with reed traces of vegetable elements during the excavation

In this level we found in a vertical position a millstone, square shape and 5 cm. thick, with traces of wear on the surface. The US 1a is probably an alluvial layer covering the BA features. In the eastern section the deposit covered an anthropic level, a horizontal 15 cm. thick layer of silty clay, very compact, pale grey colour (US 1b) with the presence of small inclusions. The layer includes numerous minute Andronovo (HM) pottery and it is characterized by the presence of anthropic elements. Probably it is an outer area close the area with the presence of numerous pots for the storage and the treatment of the cereals. Both layers US 1a and US 1b cover US 2 and partially USS 3 and 4. Under the alluvial layer we recognized a level characterized by the presence of strong anthropic activities: horizontal layer of silt, rich of organic matters, friable and light brown colour, dark grey in some compact areas. The thickness of the deposit is variable, mainly in relation to the areas with traces of activities (US 2). In the squares C-D 11 and C-D 12 the deposit can reach 7-8 cm., while it seems to decrease gradually in the eastern sector. It disappears in the squares E 11-1213-14 and in D 15, E 15, F15 and a compact clay level takes the place of the anthropic deposit. The consistency of the layer is friable, clear grey colour and it extends to the east-west direction. It seems to represent a limit of the activity area and includes small fragments of sherd in vertical position (US 5). In the strong anthropic activity layer we found several fragments of wheel-made pottery (WM), some pieces of fired clay and numerous sherds of hand-made Andronovo culture (HM) pottery. In the layer we found seven vessels, partially collapsed and fully burned by an accidental fire. In the layer we recognized a thin level of carbonised sand, in the squares C 11, F 11, D 12, characterized by soft and dusty consistency (US 3). The layer with anthropic elements is cut by a slight depression, probably a subterranean pit to locate the vessels. The slight depression is very well defined in the squares C 11 and C 12, circular shape with a diameter of 40 cm. and a depth of 6 cm. Inside there are a wheel-made fragmentary vessel. The dark grey colour edges and the walls of the pit seem partially burned, probably to guarantee the preservation and the stability of the structure. A level of friable silt, clear brown colour, fills the bottom of subterranean pits and contains few organic matter (US 4).

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The 2006 excavation area with the location of WM and HM pottery

Pottery drawings of the Incised Coarse Ware pottery

In the close area, the presence of two further slight depressions characterizes mainly the squares C 11 and D 11, 4 cm. high with concave profile and 25 cm. of diameter. Inside the depressions some fragments of incised decoration vessels and fired clay have been found. A deposit of carbonised sand with soft and dusty consistency fills the bottom of the subterranean pits (USS 6 and 7). The central sector of the trench shows an area characterized by the presence of a not uniform compact clay level, light red colour. The entire surface of the clay layer is burnt by fire, with oval shape and 80 cm. of diameter. Inside we found several HM pottery fragments with incised decoration (US 8). In the western side of the area there is a slight depression, 5 cm. deep, with an incised decoration hand-made vessel, typical of the Andronovo culture production. The bottom and the major part of the rim are preserved. Friable silt and clay concretions fill the bottom of the pit, together with carbonised matter and some burned seeds, in the beginning located probably in the vessel (US 9). As we verified for the area investigated during the 2002 season, this area was interested by a fire, explaining the presence of burnt and red clay close the pit.

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In the south-eastern sector of the excavation area, in particular in the square D 14, the plant roots disturbed the anthropic deposit, making us enable to verify the limits of the pit. The limit between the anthropic area (US 2) and the block of compact clay (US 5), delimiting the area of the activities, is characterized by the presence of three small post-holes. The first one, cylinder shape and flat bottom, is located in the square E 11 with 10 cm. of diameter and 14 cm. of depth (US 11). A level of soft and dusty sand and clay concretions fill the bottom of the post-hole, light brown colour (US 10).

One of the post-holes recorded in the excavation area

The second post-hole is located in the square E 12, with circular shape and conic section, 7 cm. of diameter and 12 cm. of depth (US 13). In some points the post-hole walls are reinforced by blocks of burned clay. The bottom is filled by a level of friable silt, light grey colour (US 12). The third post-hole is located in the square D 13 and is composed by two connected 8 shape pits. The larger post-hole shows a circular shape and conic section, with 10 cm. of diameter and 13 cm. of depth, and it is connected to another one with 6 cm. of diameter and 10 cm. of depth (US 15). Also in this case the bottom of the post-hole is filled by silt with dusty consistency and clear grey colour (US 14). The location of the post-holes seems to follow the limit of the anthropic deposit, along the compact clay edge (US 5). Probably the function of the structure was to cover the vessel storage area, as already evidenced by the discovery of clay blocks with traces of vegetable elements. The area located to the north of US 5 (squares G 11-12-13) presents the same horizontal deposit of compact silt, rich in organic matter and carbonised remains, already recognized in the southern area described before (US 2). A hand-made vessel, including a complete bottom and fragments of walls, has been recovered at the top of the deposit (square G 11). The not decorated vessel is not located in a pit, differently from the other vessel discovered in the trench area. On the other hand a large wheel-made fragmentary container, typical of Namazga VI production, seems to be positioned in a hollow depression (ca. 5 cm.) in the square G 12. The depression filling is composed by grey silt, slightly more compact than in the other pits, located in the southern area (US 16). The 2006 trench excavation in the site 1211 confirms the hypothesis that the whole site was used as a food storage area and, as indicated by the presence of seeds, the food was probably stored in the vessels. The semi-permanent nature of the structures suggests the belonging of the settlement to a nomadic community, living at the margins of the land cultivated by sedentary farmers and dedicated to the agricultural activities. The stratigraphical sequence of the site 1211 is particularly - 14 -

useful to identify the ecozones occupied by the nomadic people, testified by the presence of the archaeological records mainly on aeolian sand deposits. In this case we can be sure that nomadic people exploited different zones, rural areas and the periphery with the desert. In conclusion the Murghab area was characterized by a remarkable infiltration of pastoral groups from the northern regions just before the II millennium BC and by a following sedentary phase interacting the local agricultural people during the Late Bronze Age (Takhyrbai 3 phase). Recent radiocarbon analyses on the seeds and the coals, coming from the sites 1211 and 1219, allow us to date this phase from 1500 to 1300 BC, according to the radiocarbon dates obtained in similar contexts in southern Uzbekistan (Molali and Bustan phases). At the end of the campaign the archaeological material, coming from the survey and the excavations, has been stored in the Statal Museum National Historical Park “Ancient Merv� with the allowing of the director Dr. Rejepmurat Jepbarov of he Ministry of Culture of Turkmenistan.

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Preliminary geomorphological survey of the Site 1211

The site is placed between two main channels visible on the SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) DEM, flowing towards Gonur and Auchin sites. On the LANDSAT (2000) and ASTER (2001) satellite images, the area is covered by recent intensive vegetation and crossed by a modern canal, not visible on the CORONA photos (1960-1970). Anyway the optical photos show irregular depressions in a discontinuous band, probably a flowing belt about 300 m wide and partially covered by aeolian sands, going from SSE to NNW and bypassing the site 600 m. to the west.

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On the field we located the modern canal visible in the LANDSAT and ASTER imagery, 2-3 m. wide and 1 m. deep, together with other recent canals. We were not able to characterized palaeochannel traces on the surface, probably depending on the recent farming activity and the aeolian sand coverage.

Modern channels

Recently near the archaeological area a W-E trench has been excavated, cutting a filled palaeochannel (2 m. deep and about 10 m. wide) not visible on the surface.

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Level 0: composed by sediments disturbed by recent agricultural and archaeological works. Defined on the report of the 2002 excavation fieldwork as the last post-abandonment filling of the channel. Level 1: clay silt showing a well developed polyedric (1-2 cm.) soil structure, dull yellow orange colour, clear lower limit, black and grey with hash inclusions. The layer 1 shows two cycles of human activities, probably in phase with the Andronovo site; Level 2: massive silty sand with thin material in the lower part and pedorelicts, dull yellow orange colour with grey and reddish streaks, clear lower limit; Levels 3-4: massive loamy silt, becoming silty sand in the upper part. In the lower part the levels show greyish yellow colour, light yellow in the lower part. Presence of millimetric shells of gasteropods. Along the upper limit of the level 3 there is a sub-millimetric white level for the presence of salt and shells. Darker areas, for the presence of organic matter, are located close the upper limit of the level 4. Sharp lower limit with pottery fragments; Level 5: two levels of clay silt separated by a level of 2-3 cm. thick sandy silt, well developed polyedric structure, dull yellow orange colour, sharp lateral limit with level 9 and sharp lower limit with the level 10.

The following levels are cut by the modern canal: Level 6: loamy silt with polyedric structure disturbed by bioturbations, greyish yellow colour, clear lower limit; Level 7: massive clay silt, greyish yellow colour with light yellow streaks, sharp lower limit; Level 8: silty clay with well developed polyedric structure, greyish yellow colour with light yellow streaks, sharp lower limit; Level 9: fine sand with faint slanting laminations, dull yellow orange colour, sharp lower limit; - 18 -

Level 10: massive sandy silt, greyish yellow colour. General view: stratigraphy of the palaeo-channel

The levels 6-10 are part of the plain in which the channel has formed; the upper levels (from 6 to 9) have been cut by the palaeo-channel. The levels 6 and 8 have a polyedric structure (6 and 8) and represent palaeo-soil remains, testifying sub-humid period with geomorphologically stable surface without erosion or aggradation phenomena. The levels from 1 to 5 are natural filling of the channel. The presence of pottery fragments on the bottom and anthropic evidence on the top of the filling indicates that the channel was active and was filled during the human presence. The levels 3 and 4 are composed by thin sediments coming from slow flowing water. The thin white lamina on the top of the level 3 corresponds to a moment of not water presence in the channel. The upper level 2 deposited during a soil degradation phase as indicated by the presence of pedorelicts. Probably in this phase the channel was completely filled.

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List of archaeological materials (six boxes from Season 2006) by the National Historical Park “Ancient Merv” under the “Ministry of Culture and TV & Radio Broadcasting of Turkmenistan”

M2006 Site 1211- Inventory of deposited material Site No. No. of boxes Stratigraphical Unit (US) S1211 1 SURFACE

S1211 S1211 S1211 S1211 S1211 S1211

C12-C15-D12-D13-D15-C15-G11-F11 D12-E12--E15--F13-F15-G11-G12-G13G15 D14 D11 D13

1 US 1; US 2 US 5 1 US 9 US 13 TRENCH 02 AG AREA

Inventory of material collected during Takhirbaj and Togolok areas survey recognition Site No. S1406 S1416 S1419 S1427 S1428 S1431 S1433 S1438 S1441 S1445 S1455 S1457 S1458 S1459 S1460 S1461 S1462 S1464 S1468 S1469 S1470 S1471 S1472 S1473 S1474 S1476 S1477 S1478 S1479

Campaign M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06

Square No.


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S1481 S1482 S1484 S1485 S1490 S1491 S1493 S1500 S1508 S1511 S1514 S1515 S1516 S1518 S1519 S1520 TOTAL: 6 BOXES

M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06 M06

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Turkmenistan Report 2006  
Turkmenistan Report 2006